Remember the story of the three little pigs? How they built their house of stone and no matter how much the wolf huffed and puffed, he couldn’t blow the house down?
While I appreciate that using an analogy involving a Wolf and scoring goals may invoke other memories for City fans, this really was the tale of yesterday’s game.
No matter how hard City tried, they could not score.
Rotherham set out to frustrate City and followed a tried and tested formula. They played relatively narrow at the back and packed the box, challenging City to break them down.
City were quick out of the blocks. In the opening 10 minutes, Teemu Pukki had two chances, Josh Sargent had one and Sam McCallum fizzed a shot that was deflected wide.
Rotherham stabilised things for the middle 15 minutes of the first half, before City upped the tempo again. More chances for Pukki, a Gabriel Sara shot curled wide and the sight of Angus Gunn taking the ball almost on the halfway line gave a clue as to how it was going.
From that ball, Gunn played a decent pass to Sargent, who was then fouled, giving Sara a set-piece opportunity that was actually more off-target than it looked to most in the ground.
The second half was more scrappy. Rotherham tried everything to disrupt the rhythm and flow of the game – taking an age at every throw-in and free kick. And why not – it seems not that long ago that we were praising City for finally mastering the dark arts.
David Wagner made changes but as is the way of it, they merely made City look less likely to score. Only the movement of Christos Tzolis created anything in the way of a threat, but the youngster had one shot cleared off the line before he blasted the best chance of the game over the bar.
All of this made for what was an inevitably frustrating afternoon, with the tantalizing prospect of fifth place being the reward had City taken all three points.
How you interpret the result really depends on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty person. Or even a glass totally empty person.
Let’s not forget the depth of City’s current injury crisis. This was a team picked by the physio, rather than the coach. Sam Byram and Issac Hayden made it to the bench. A cynic would add ‘without further injury’ to that statement.
There were three changes to the back line from the previous game. Not that you would know it. Andy Omobamidele, stand-in captain, was imperious at the back, accompanied by Lungi Sorensen who stood up to the challenge of marshalling former City man Jordan Hugill with alacrity.
Most impressive, I felt, was McCallum – not necessarily for his defending, but when he comes forward he does one thing that no other City player seems willing to do. He plays an early ball into the box, before the opposition has a chance to set its defence.
His replacement after 65 by Dimi Giannoulis weakened City both going forward and when they had to defend. The Greek was having one of his all too regular games where he seemed unable to play a simple pass to another player in yellow.
The changes at the back forced more changes in midfield. Liam Gibbs, who had impressed in his more advanced role, was forced back into a more defensive role alongside Sara. He was neat, effective and played some great passes, but was way less influential on the game as a whole than when he played higher up the pitch.
The same can be said for Sargent, forced back into the ‘number 10’ role. He dug in well, won some important balls, held it up, and got in some good positions but largely, whenever he plays in that position, he goes missing for large portions of the game. He doesn’t present the same threat as when he is on the shoulder of the last defender.
That privilege went to Teemu Pukki once again, who hassled, harried, and got into some great positions. The Teemu of two seasons ago would have had a hat trick before the end of the first half but right now he can’t buy a goal. He hesitates on the half chances. The ball never quite runs for him and when he shoots out of frustration, inevitably the ball is blocked.
Pukki also went off after 65 minutes and was replaced by Adam Idah. Once again the young Irishman played with great pace and power when he got the ball but his decision-making is woeful at the moment and he looks in dire need of match time.
This brings us to Marquinhos. He played half-decently – proving to be a robust tackler at times as he stuck gamely to his responsibilities in the City half of the pitch but going forward, he seems to offer little as a wide player, seemingly lacking the pace to worry the fullback.
His main role seemed to be to hold the ball for Max Aarons to overlap. If either of these two could develop the early cross that McCallum provides on the opposite flank then I feel City would be a far more dangerous opponent.
And finally, there was Onel Hernandez, who did what he does best. Pace, power and determination. He had the beating of Harding and proved a thorn in the side for Rotherham but two games in quick succession took its toll and the Cuban was withdrawn after 80 minutes, by which time his influence had waned significantly.
We all know that there will be changes next season. You get the feeling that City will fall short of the playoff places, but that they will drag it out until the last day of the season with a further run of alternating hot and cold performances.
Even I’m not sure whether that makes me a half-full or a half-empty person!